The responsibility of nursing students, the “simpler joys” and an island in Maine

Through the onset of the pandemic, Maddi Terry worked as a stay-in-help for a 90-year-old stranger in Maine, at the Mullins Center COVID-19 testing site and at an assisted living facility for memory impaired patients

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By Claire Healy, Assistant News Editor

While people across the country grappled with isolation and distance from family, one student leaned into her role as a nurse in an incredibly personal way. Over the summer, Maddi Terry, a senior nursing student at the University of Massachusetts, decided to work as a personal care assistant for a 90-year-old stranger on an island in Maine.

“I was basically like an incredibly encompassing secretary for someone I never met, in a really random place, doing really random stuff. He was a huge sailor, so I learned to sail, I’ve never sailed in my life,” Terry explained.

The man she worked for needed a caregiver full time because of the pandemic, who could live with him for a couple months and help with his daily tasks. Terry noted that, while many of her friends were leaving on or off campus housing and moving back home, she completely switched her entire environment and social circle, making for a summer experience vastly different from many of her peers.

“It was very challenging. I felt really lonely, being socially isolated is hard enough, and then being socially isolated on an island . . . we had to quarantine the whole time. Despite the really frustrating moments, it was beautiful.”

After her job term ended, she had three days at home before coming back to the Amherst area, where her social circle reverted to the life of a college student, albeit, a college student still under restrictions from the pandemic. She described the transition as a “respite,” where she got to enjoy again the “simpler joys of being at college,” such as decorating her new room, spending time with new friends or enjoying different food.

“Coming from that to here was really odd,” she reflected in October, as her semester was fully underway. “I went from two months of one-on-one time with someone I’d never met to moving in with four girls who I’ve now spent all my time with.”

In that new space she found time to reconnect with friends, which she noted was one of the most rewarding parts of her semester. She said that extra time she has had throughout the remote semester gave her time to explore literature related to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, invest in friendships, and herself. The biggest positive she listed from this period of time for her was the deepening of relationships, where instead of “a 30-minute lunch date, or one hour lunch date, or even a Friday night party . . . now it’s come over and stay for nine hours, because we both know the other one doesn’t have any place to be.”

“In an everyday college experience, I start my day at 6:00 a.m. I go to bed at 11:30 p.m. and its endless back-to-back stuff and I don’t have the time to sit down and read or sit down. Right now, we have the newspaper coming to our house and I take at least 30 minutes a day to just skim it or I’m knitting, I mean, even the stupid stuff like I’m learning to do knitting for, like the sixth time in my life. I make my bed now. All these little things that I don’t really prioritize when the world is quote-unquote ‘normal.’”

However, as with many other nursing students, Terry’s “respite” time was coupled with a lot of hands-on work. Throughout the semester, she worked at the Mullins testing site, conducted clinical hours for her major at hospitals and worked at an assisted living facility for memory impaired patients. Every week her schedule would vary, but she could usually be found at Mullins assisting with UMass’s efforts to test students and the community for COVID-19. The Mullins site testing facilities she described as removed and not conducive to learning.

“It’s like you’re providing a service, you give the service and the person leaves, there’s no connection or anything,” Terry said. “I think that’s been the strangest part, even people I know really well when I see them there, it’s really awkward because you’re behind a mask, sometimes goggles and a mask, and then plastic, and then their mask, and then your distance. So, it’s a very surreal environment, incredibly boring. And not very much learning exists there, unfortunately.”